Washington: Bryant Neal Viñas, the American man believed to have been the first to leave his country and join the global Jihadist group Al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks, has written about his experience, describing jihadist training tactics and the “terrible boredom” of waiting for a mission.
“There were few operations to participate in, and even those weren’t very good so the body was not in prime fighting condition for ‘mountain fighting’ when a fighting mission appeared,” Bryant Neal Viñas wrote in this month’s issue of the CTC Sentinel, published by the West Point military academy of US.
Viñas, born in New York City in 1982, initially tried to join the US army after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, but said he was discharged for “failure to adapt to the military.” In 2004 he converted to Islam after hearing sermons by U.S.-born al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki and flew to Pakistan in 2007, posing as a student. One of the most important influences on his fateful decision to travel to the badlands of North Waziristan was Inside the Jihad: My Life with Al Qaeda by a Belgian of Moroccan descent, Omar Nasiri.
There he was eventually brought into the Al-Qaeda fold, where the daily hardships of life in remote training camps were a far cry from his dreams of waging jihad. “We lived in mudbrick houses, and the food was bad—mainly rice, potato stew, or okra stew,” he wrote. “The rich Arabs had money to buy goats, sheep, and chickens, but that was about as exotic as it got.”
He also talks about “terrible boredom” and health risks—at one point he had the little toe of his right foot amputated because of a fungal infection. Yet he met with top Al-Qaeda officials—at one point suggesting bombing the Long Island Railroad or a Walmart—and heard rumors of other planned attacks. Viñas also came into contact with several other Jihadist groups while in Pakistan.
Viñas writes that a Belgian citizen of Moroccan descent spoke of the merits of attacking the Belgium metro or a European soccer stadium—potentially indicating that the 2015-2016 terror strikes in France and Belgium had been envisioned for years. But after Viñas was arrested in 2008 by Pakistani security forces in the city of Peshawar, where he was trying to find a wife, he was returned to the US, where he became one of the US government’s top informers on the inner workings of Al-Qaeda.
His testimony has led to the killing and capturing of dozens of Jihadist fighters, and he was released from prison last year.
The CTC Sentinel said their publication of Viñas story aimed to provide insights into why young Western men leave their country to join the ranks of jihadist fighters.